Norway health chief claims coronavirus could have been controlled without lockdown

Top official urges government to avoid heavy-handed measures if second wave of Covid-19 hits

camilla stoltenberg
Norwegian Institute of Public Health director general Camille Stoltenberg
(Image credit: Terje Heiestad)

One of Norway’s most senior public health officials has claimed the Nordic country could have controlled the coronavirus outbreak without a lockdown.

Camille Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), says that analysis suggests less restrictive measures would have been sufficient - and has urged the authorities to avoid taking such a heavy-handed approach in the event of a second wave of infections.

In an interview with state broadcaster NRK, Stoltenberg said that Norway “could possibly have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts” by not pursuing a full lockdown.

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Instead, the reproductive number, or R value, of the virus could have been kept low by “keeping open, but with infection control measures”, she argued.

Latest figures show that as of Thursday morning, Norway had recorded 8,401 cases and just 235 deaths in a population of 5.4 million people.

But according to The Local, the NIPH published a report at the start of May stating that the country’s outbreak was already slowing when the nationwide lockdown was announced.

“It looks as if the effective reproduction rate had already dropped to around 1.1 when the most comprehensive measures were implemented on 12 March, and that there would not be much to push it down below 1... We have seen in retrospect that the infection was on its way down,” the report says.

Reflecting on the decision to shut Norway’s schools, which began reopening last month, Stoltenberg has concluded that “the scientific backing was not good enough”.

The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson notes that Norway’s statistics agency was “the first in the world to calculate the permanent damage inflicted by school closures”.

“Every week of classroom education denied to students, it found, stymies life chances and permanently lowers earnings potential,” Nelson writes.

Stoltenberg told NRK that if her country is hit by a second wave of the virus, “what is needed is a commitment from the entire population to follow the infection prevention advice”.

In neighbouring Sweden, where no lockdown measures were implemented, the death toll was last week briefly the world’s highest per capita. However, the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said that it is misleading to focus on the death toll over a single week.

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